Fall Be Kind – Animal Collective (November 2009)

I don’t really think I’ve come across a band as interesting as Animal Collective. I mean, yeah, you can find bands with some pretty far-out sounds, but what often ends up giving a band its place in history is its evolution. Just to prove my point: The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Clash, R.E.M., and I could go on. Rather than just sitting on consistent critical revelry by building one album’s sound from the blueprint of the last, they jump ship from their boat of successes to pursue whatever they damn well please, which is really rather brave of them.

On the sixth day of this year, Merriweather Post Pavilion was released to widespread acclaim and even a surprise commercial success with its lead single “My Girls”, which was one of the most downloaded tracks on iTunes this year. Merriweather Post Pavilion took me no less than five listens to fully appreciate, giving the relatively pop-driven album a trait that you’d be surprised to find in their most listener-friendly album: it’s challenging.

Merriweather Post Pavilion was apparently designed to be a summery album, even if I felt that it sounded more like a blooming spring flower than a blinding summer sunbeam, whatever that means. Immediately after I finally, for lack of a better word, got the whole Animal Collective business I described it as the sound of floating through a meadow, listening to the different songs that various flowers might sing in the fashion of the Alice In Wonderland movie. I can only imagine how the more substance-using listeners must think of it.

Fall Be Kind, a five song EP that is for all intents and purposes a follow-up to Merriweather Post Pavilion, doesn’t abandon or move away from the previous album entirely, their EPs don’t really do that, but it certainly does show that they’re moving away from their “pop-friendly” sound, even if they retain a substantial chuck of it. I woke up this Monday morning to a warm sun on a chilly day, and I have this idea to throw in that new Animal Collective EP. “Graze” came on and oh my goodness it was delightful. After a typical bit of Panda Bear and Avey Tare, if you’re confused right now, those are two of the band members, harmonizing in a manner that, as usual, might take a few listens to appreciate, the song breaks down halfway through, introduces a fun little beat, and then releases a bunch of pan flutes on your ears. It seems so silly at first, and silly it remains, but the more you hear it, the more it makes you smile. At least, it made me smile, which isn’t easy to do immediately after I lug a humorless version of myself out of bed.

If you’ve heard anything about the EP, you’ve probably heard of that one song “What Do I Want? Sky”, which is receiving a good amount of buzz thanks to Pitchfork’s perfect ten review of the track (for context, this is significant because since track reviews began this year on Pitchfork, they’ve only awarded a perfect rating to one other song, Grizzly Bear’s “While You Wait For The Others”) and the fact that it contains the first ever cleared sampling of Grateful Dead. While I don’t really dig the first two or so minutes, it gets really divine once they start repeating its title. Throughout the entire EP, and especially during this song, Fall Be Kind sounds like the perfect thing to listen to during an autumn filled with varying levels of kindness.

The remaining songs aren’t nearly as remarkable, though they’re awfully pretty. The boys borrow The Little Engine That Could’s psych-up mantra on the final track, center the product with the shortest song, and build five songs to a probably-overlong-but-who-cares twenty-seven minutes. As I’ve come to expect from Animal Collective releases, the lyrics aren’t really up to snuff, despite their occasional bursts of cleverness (“The other side of takeout is mildew on rice” and “I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status” are my personal favorite lines from the band), but the use of vocals as an additional instrument mostly absolves this in the same way that the minimal lyrics on Radiohead’s Kid A not only were forgivable, but helpful in their aid to the soundscape.

Animal Collective succeeds so consistently in their innovation in the same way that The Velvet Underground used to. At times, The VU seemed too far out there even to the most open-minded listeners, and their musical directions seemed to be creative dead ends, resulting in a drastic change of sound between albums. Only in hindsight could anyone really imagine the ways in which they would mold the shape of rock to come. I can imagine Animal Collective having a similar impact on music thanks to their repeated flirting with the avant and flailing against the regular. It’s really refreshing to see a band that refuses to restrict themselves with the demands of the listener. They’re not making music for themselves, anyone else, or even the sake of making music. If they’re making music for anything, it’s the future of the art, and that’s probably an unintended recipient. Fall Be Kind has some consistency issues, and it’s a musically challenging listen, but the music is interesting and thought-provoking. In an age where you could probably find most of the songs on Youtube for free, isn’t that all you should really need?

A-

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Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 10:49 AM  Leave a Comment  

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